Virginia Willis Blog

Fire it Up! 5 Smokin’ Hot Grilling Recipes for Memorial Day

I love to grill.

My first grill was a Weber that I actually put together myself. It was a pretty scary moment when I clicked the ignition. It all worked out and I didn’t blow myself to kingdom-come.

So, yes there you have it. I use a gas grill.

Quelle horreur.

I know that many purists shun gas, but I have to tell you, I love the ease and convenience. It makes grilling very easy and I’ll fire up the grill several times a week during the summer. Yes, I love the flavor of hardwood charcoal, but I love easy, too, especially on a school-night. Grilling keeps the heat out of the kitchen and often can make for easy clean-up. You got to be careful – it’s easy to fall in a rut and cook the same-old, same-old.

My friends and colleagues Dave Joachim and Andy Schloss have just written a great new book to help you get your grill on. No boring burgers and dreary dogs here.

These guys are all over it. There are 400 recipes for grilling everything. And, I do mean everything – Abalone to Zucchini. There’s veal, turkey, rabbit, seafood, you name it – they’ve got a great way to grill it. It’s a perfect addition to your repertoire for summer cooking and a great gift for grads and dads.

Check out their cool video, too.

Pretty neat.

So, for your grilling pleasure I’m adding a couple of my own grilling recipes. I’m sharing a recipe for Grilled Okra, yes, okra, and Grilled Tuscan Chicken to go along with their Grilled Beets, Grilled Oysters, and Pig Candy. What’s not to love about something called Pig Candy?

Check it out – you’ve got 5 great recipes for your weekend.

Happy Memorial Day. Be safe.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Grilled Okra
Serves 4 to 6

11/2 pounds okra, stems trimmed
1 tablespoon canola oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn all burners to high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes. Place the okra in a bowl and toss with canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the grill and cook until bright green and tender, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from the grill and serve immediately.

Grilled Tuscan Chicken
Serves 4

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, removed from the stem and chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, removed from the stem and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, removed from the stem and chopped
1/3 cup water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup olive oil
1 whole chicken
Juice of 2 lemons

In a small saucepan, bring 1/3 cup water and rosemary, oregano and garlic to a boil; remove from heat, cover, and let steep 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender. Add oil; season with salt and pepper. Purée until smooth; let cool.

Remove back bone from chicken and separate breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings. Combine chicken and rosemary oil in a re-sealable plastic bag, and turn to coat. Cover, and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn all burners to high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove chicken from marinade; place on grill, skin side down. Discard marinade. Cook, basting frequently with lemon juice and turning as needed to prevent burning, until cooked throughout, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with grilled onion and lemon slices.

Fire it Up! Mixed Grilled Beets with Orange-Hazelnut Gremolata

Beets contain about 6 percent sugar. When the beets are boiled, the sugar dissolves in the cooking liquid and you’re left with earthy-tasting tubers. But grill them and the sugars concentrate and caramelize, transforming the beets into a sort of vegetable candy. In this recipe, their sweetness gets a complement of pungent herb relish. Gremolata is a classic Italian garnish for osso buco. Usually it’s made with garlic, pine nuts, lemon zest, and parsley. Ours is more fragrant; we swap tarragon for some of the parsley and hazelnuts for the pine nuts.

Makes 4 servings

4 multicolored beets, such as red, golden, and Chioggia (about 18 ounces total)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt, preferably smoked
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper, preferably smoked

Orange-Hazelnut Gremolata:
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon packed fresh tarragon or mint leaves
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon blanched hazelnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar

Light a grill for direct medium heat, about 400ºF. Scrub the beets well, then slice about 1/4 inch thick. Combine the oil, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the beets and coat well.

For the orange-hazelnut gremolata: Combine the garlic, parsley, mint, orange zest, hazelnuts, salt, pepper, and sugar in a minichopper or a small food processor. Pulse until finely chopped and granular in texture, but not pureed.

Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Grill the beet slices directly over the heat until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Arrange on a platter and top with the gremolata.

Fire it Up! Pig Candy

A pig’s belly is striated with fat and thick slabs of lean meat, which run in ragged, parallel stripes. Think bacon and then think again. The layering is not unlike petit four pastry or ribbon candy—the perfect image for conjuring up this dementedly delicious piggy sweet meat. A slab of pork belly with its rind removed is soaked in a pineapple brine. (The rind is a layer of skin that helps the belly hold its shape for butchering, but becomes as tough as tanned leather during cooking.) Bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme in fresh pineapple juice, helps to tenderize the lean meat of the belly. The brined belly is then grilled slowly with smoke over an indirect fire until it just about melts. Then it is cut into small squares, rolled in habanero-tinged cinnamon sugar, and quickly grilled to caramelize its surface. The result is a meaty, fatty, sugary, spicy mouth explosion. Garnish with curls of cooked onion, if desired.

Makes 4 servings

3 cups hardwood chips, such as hickory or fruitwood, soaked in water for 30 minutes

2 cups Pineapple Brine (recipe follows)
1 1/2 pounds pork belly with rind removed, about 2 inches thick
1 large onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground habanero or another chile pepper

Combine the brine and pork in a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag. Press out the air, seal the bag, and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.
Light a grill for indirect medium heat, about 325°F, with smoke. Because the pork belly will need to cook for about 2 hours, if you are using charcoal or wood, you might need to light additional coals or add more wood to replenish the fire.

Layer the onion slices over the bottom of a small roasting pan just large enough to hold the pork belly. Remove the pork belly from the brine and discard the remaining brine. Pat the pork belly dry and place on top of the onions.

Drain the wood chips and put in the grill. Place the pan on the grill grate away from the fire, cover the grill, and cook until the meat is fork-tender or an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the meat registers 180°F, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Remove the pan from the grill, transfer the pork to a cutting board, and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Reserve the onions if desired. Keep the fire going.

Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and chile pepper. Push through a strainer (to remove any lumps) onto a sheet of aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Cut the pork belly into four slices, about 1 inch thick. Cut each slice into four pieces, each approximately 1 by 1 by 2 inches. Roll the pork belly pieces in the brown sugar mixture, coating them evenly and thoroughly. Transfer to a plate or pan large enough to hold in a single layer.

Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Grill the sugar-coated pork belly pieces directly over the fire until the meat is grill-marked and the sugar melts and bubbles, 10 to 15 seconds per side. Transfer to a platter and serve with toothpicks.

Pineapple Brine
Best with pork, chicken, turkey, shellfish, fish
Makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup rum or vodka
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika

Mix everything together and use as directed in a recipe.

Fire it Up! Oysters Grilled with Roasted Garlic Butter and Romano

The International Association of Culinary Professionals holds an annual conference, and New Orleans was the site of the 2008 meeting. On Iberville Street, the Acme Oyster House is something of a tourist trap, but it’s justly famous its char-grilled oysters. After devouring several bar trays full, we went home and started experimenting. Grill-roasted garlic, parsley, and Romano cheese give the oysters some Italian aromas, but the Creole rub is pure New Orleans. Serve the oysters with lemon wedges for squeezing and French bread for sopping up the extra sauce. When shucking the oysters, make sure the shell edges are clean, with no bits of broken shell. Even a bit of crunch would ruin the creamy luxury of the warm oysters oozing with butter and cheese.

Makes 6 servings

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons Creole Rub (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup Grill-Roasted Garlic (recipe follows), mashed
2 dozen large oysters, shucked
1 1/2 cups grated Romano cheese
4 lemon wedges

Combine the butter, Creole rub, lemon juice, parsley, and mashed roasted garlic in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the butter is no longer foaming and has started to brown slightly, about 5 minutes.

Light the grill for direct medium heat, about 375ºF. Brush and oil the grill grate. Place the oysters directly on the grate and top each with about 2 teaspoons of the sauce and 1 tablespoon of the cheese. Grill until the oyster shells char and the cheese melts and browns around the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the oysters to a heat-proof platter or tray. Drizzle another teaspoon of the sauce over each oyster and serve hot with the lemon wedges for squeezing.

Shucking Oysters
To make shucking easier, freeze the oysters for 20 minutes to numb their muscles. Press a strong, dull knife between the hinged ends of the shells to pop the shells apart. Run the knife along the inside of the top shell to cut the meat from the shell, and then remove the top shell. Run the knife under the oyster to detach it from the bottom shell, but leave the oyster nestled in the shell. The liquor from fresh oysters should be clear. Cloudiness indicates an older bivalve whose tissues have begun to break down.

Creole Rub
Best with pork, chicken, turkey, shellfish, fish
Makes about 1/3 cup

1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon sugar

Mix everything together. Store in a tightly closed container for up to 1 month.

Grill-Roasted Garlic
Good with anything except sweets
Makes about 1/4 cup

1 small garlic bulb
1 teaspoon olive oil

Light a grill for direct medium heat, about 375ºF. Cut the pointed end off the garlic bulb, exposing most of the cloves. Put the garlic bulb, cut side up, on a 6-inch square of aluminum foil, drizzle with the olive oil, and wrap the foil around the garlic to enclose it. Grill directly over the heat until the cloves are soft, about 30 minutes.

Unwrap the garlic bulb and let cool. Cut the entire bulb in half through its equator, then squeeze the garlic from the skin and mash with a fork. Wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

beet, pig candy, and oyster photos are by Alison Miksch
okra and chicken recipes are by Virginia Willis

Andrew Schloss and David Joachim, Fire It Up: More Than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything, Chronicle Books (2011) Reprinted with permission of Chronicle Books.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, Thanks so much.

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2 Responses to “Fire it Up! 5 Smokin’ Hot Grilling Recipes for Memorial Day”

  1. Huh. Maybe I orta get a grill. If my brother can make a cake in a Dutch oven over coals outside, surely I can cook a burger on a grill.


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